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Faster, Now: Girl Ultra’s craving more beats per minute 

Girl Ultra draws on the throwback sounds of the dancefloor in her ode to Mexico City’s southside.

14 Oct 2022

Mariana de Miguel’s love for dance music blossomed in an unexpected place: an online My Chemical Romance fan forum. She was 14 when she logged on from her home in Mexico City, bonding with emo lovers all over the world, before connecting with one fan in a deeper way. “Maybe this is oversharing but I fell for a guy from Bristol,” she laughs. “He really got me into trip-hop… Goldie, Tricky, Portishead. Beth Gibbons is one of my biggest inspirations.”

Thirteen years on, it’s safe to say that Mariana’s musical project, Girl Ultra, leans more towards Gibbons than Gerard (Way); her adolescent love of UK dance evolved into a soft-disco band at high school, before she ventured into house music as a DJ. She cites jungle and garage among her favourite electronic genres: “The R&B vocals that are sped up always caught my ear.”

Although her musical beginnings are grounded in electro and dance, Girl Ultra was first built on slower, soulful sounds. Her 2019 debut Nuevos Aires infused the deep emotion of Mexican bolero ballads with ‘90s R&B beats, with an added garnish of trap flavourings. Her latest EP, El Sur, marks a return to the dance floor beats of her DJ years; a gorgeously-layered homage to Southside Mexico City, a place she describes as having “a natural punk vibe”: “The law doesn’t apply the same way there when it comes to nightlife,” she says. 

The South, El Sur, in one of the world’s most populated cities, is far from the concentrated spots in the capital’s downtown. She describes it as a hotbed of hidden scenes that range from bars blaring dark synthwave to reggaeton house parties. ”It’s a place where people go outside their radar to listen to music, have fun and [drink] a cheap beer.”

Lead single ‘Amores de Droga’ mixes soulful vocals with a lo-fi house underscored by chill synths. The result is a melodic ride through heartbreak: a sadness transported to the club, the sensation of dancing to unburden a heavy heart. Yo no nací pa’ enamorarme / Qué desmadre she sings – “I wasn’t born to fall in love / What a mess” before affirming her romantic displacement: “No one taught me how to love.” 

“I wanted the theme of the EP to revolve around a specific feeling…It reminded me of where I grew up: Mexico City’s Southside”

The theme of the album explores the concept of “firsts”; the first time exploring new genres, signifying an important rupture from her previous R&B releases. “I wanted the theme of the EP to revolve around a specific feeling. When I started making this music, it reminded me of where I grew up,” she explains. “It felt like a specific pin on the map, bringing me to El Sur de la Ciudad: Mexico City’s Southside.”

On returning to her Southside roots, she looks to the music she grew up with. On ‘Bombay’ she transforms the “zing zing zing” of Bambaataa’s ‘82 classic ‘Looking for the Perfect Beat’ – more recently heard on ‘06 LL Cool J and J.Lo collab ‘Control Myself’ – into a soulful club house chorus, while guitar-driven ‘Punk’ interpolates the chorus of Gwen Stefani’s ‘Bubblegum Electric’. “All these resources pop up naturally when making music and I really enjoy that today’s pop gives life to songs that came out in the past,” she says. “When I brought up [the idea of] a romantic getaway, I remembered ‘Bubblegum Electric’, and thought ‘instead of love in the back seat, let’s make it in the Southside’.”

Bringing El Sur on the road this year has only fuelled her desire to stick with faster electro beats and distance herself from slower R&B that marked her first releases. “[Onstage] I felt energetic and it was nice to feel people craving that energy,” she said. “I got bored of R&B BPMs. I need more BPMs, more energy, more raw vocals. I’m not going back.” 

Gearing up to push the tempo in future releases, she makes a point of remembering her MCR forum love who first introduced her to UK dance. “He changed my life. I still have him on Facebook,” she laughs. “When I was emo, I was still very open. I just let music come into my life the way it has to come.”